Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Interview with Jim and Nicole of Unicycle Loves You

Pop-rock quintet Unicycle Loves You was founded in 2006 by guitarist/vocalist Jim Carroll.

Obscenely catchy songs such as "Highway Robbery", "Dollars and Cents" and "Woman Bait for Manfish" will no doubt gain them new legions of fans when their self-titled labor of love drops on Chicago indie label Highwheel Records on June 10. The full-length debut album features members of another Chicago act, The Bitter Tears and was produced by Red Red Meat's Brian Deck (Modest Mouse, Iron & Wine).


Q & A with Jim Carroll and Nicole Vitale of
Unicycle Loves You

The Nightfly: Unicycle Loves You sounds like bottled sunshine – was the upbeat sound a deliberate choice from Day One or did that come about as you began playing as a band?
Jim: I've never thought of us as bottled sunshine.
Nicole: We don't mastermind our sound to be one thing or another. We feel it's better to just play what comes out and sounds good to us. We think we rock pretty hard for a bottle of sunshine.

The Nightfly: Do you ever get an urge for playing "dark" angry songs and renaming the band Vicious Cycle?
Jim: No.
Nicole: I'd rather be fishing.

The Nightfly: You formed the band in late 2006. Where did you find your "recruits"?
Jim: I'm not Frank Zappa or anything. We had all been friends before forming the band. Everyone liked my songs so we ran with it.

The Nightfly: Which do you prefer: songwriting, recording or playing live shows?
Jim: They are all fun in some way or another, but recording is definitely where I feel most creative.
Nicole: Songwriting is frustrating for me, and playing live flies by too quickly for me to really enjoy. So, I like recording best. Those moments are frozen in time forever for better or worse, and in the end, you have this piece of art that you can always look back on with fond memories. We had never spent so much time working together as we did when we were in the studio, and it was the most fun I've had so far.

The Nightfly: Which musicians/songwriters have had the greatest impact on you?
Jim: Frank Black or Stuart Murdoch or Anton Newcombe or Mark Robinson. I don't know. Everybody that's not me.
Nicole: David Bowie.

The Nightfly: Are you self-taught musicians?
Jim: I had saxophone lessons in the third grade.
Nicole: We're a self-taught band. Some of us have "training" in a traditional sense, but all of that amounts to very little until you try and make things work in a group.

The Nightfly: Could you list some fellow Chicago indie bands?
Jim: La Scala, Airiel, Walking Bicycles, The Bitter Tears, Let's Get Out Of This Terrible Sandwich Shop, Bang! Bang!, Aleks and the Drummer, The 1900s, The Sapiens, Office, Chin Up Chin Up, The Strange Young Lovers, Hidden Mitten, Notes and Scratches, Sally, Maps and Atlases, Brilliant Pebbles, Oh My God, Ultra Sonic Edukators, Star, The Safes, Mucca Pazza, The Pinks, Reptoids, Head Of Femur, Sharks and Seals, Tortoise, Mr. Russia, Flosstradamus, The Sea and Cake, The Cool Kids, The Great Perhaps, The Submarine Races, The Prairie Cartel, Inspector Owl, Miracle Condition, The Narrator, Bald Eagle, Milk At Midnight, Mannequin Men, Darling, The Ponys, Apteka, Slings and Arrows, Panther Style, Black Ladies, Bobby Conn, Plane, Ezra Furman, House and Bird, Baby Teeth, The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, Canasta, Coltrane Motion, The Modern Temper, Pool Of Frogs, LMNOP, Snd on Snd, Assassins, The Its!, The Blue Ribbon Glee Club, The Dials, Unicycle Loves You.
To name a few.

The Nightfly: How did you choose the producer for your first full-length album? Jim: We all admired Brian's work and he had worked with Highwheel Records before, so it was a very natural occurance. Brian Deck is one very gifted man.
Nicole: When we saw Brian Deck looking up at us from the window at Engine Studios with those puppy dog eyes, we couldn't say no. He was the cutest thing!

The Nightfly: Is ULY ultimately looking for a major record deal or does the band prefer doing things the indie way?
Jim: I'm not sure how to distinguish between majors and indies anymore in the sense that I consider labels like Sub Pop, Matador, Merge, Rough Trade, XL, Kill Rock Stars, Secretly Canadian, Polyvinyl, etc. to be major. That said, yes, we would ultimately and eventually like to be on something like that. There's really no need to try to get signed to some major label like Capitol anymore. Look at The Shins (Sub Pop) vs. The Decemberists (Capitol). Who's more of a household name? But at this point we're very lucky to be on a label like Highwheel. We get the kind of support and freedom that bands on majors can't even fathom.

The Nightfly: Have you seen very real results from the band having a presence on MySpace Music?
Jim: It's how we got our first gig, got a record deal, get feedback from people and establish any kind of fan base. It's definitely one of the main reasons there is no need for radio or traditional major labels anymore. But you can't just count on MySpace for everything.

The Nightfly: Which artists/bands are you currently listening to?
Jim: I only listen to Brian Jonestown Massacre all the time.
Nicole: Wanda Jackson, La Scala, Edith Piaf, Johnny Cash, and House and Bird.

The Nightfly: Singer-songwriter Jill Sobule is currently collecting donations from fans via her website for her next recording project - is this something ULY would consider doing?
Jim: That's lame.
Nicole: I'd rather be fishing.

The Nightfly: Are artists - major or indie - selling out when they allow songs to be used in commercials or are they just trying to survive?
Jim: Hearing a track from the first Architecture In Helsinki album on some commercial last year didn't really phase me. But hearing the new polished Against Me! album raised some questions.

The Nightfly: How do you balance going for the sound that you love while at the same time finding your own voice?
Jim: We are the sound that we love.
Nicole: We never ask ourselves, "Well, what would ULY do if they played this song?" because we're the band. Whatever we approach ends up sounding like what we love because we work at it until we love it.

The Nightfly: Are you making a living from your music at this point?
Nicole: Ha!

The Nightfly: How do you define success?
Jim: I try not to.

The Nightfly: Are the dynamics different with one lady in the band?
Jim: We decided that having a "lady" wasn't the direction we wanted to go in, so the boys bought me a strap-on so I could be more like them. I've even learned how to pee standing up! It was so much easier than I thought it would be, and now the world is my toilet!

The Nightfly: Do your fans sing along to your songs at live shows?
Jim: They did at the last one. It was fun.
Nicole: When they're drunk enough, anything can happen.

The Nightfly: Which of your songs is your personal favorite and why?
Jim: Dollars and Cents - because it's a challenge for me to perform live. I really sweat that one out.
Nicole: Highway Robbery - this song always clicks for me. I have fun playing it, I get to sing a lot, and it always goes over well. I'm also most pleased with the way this one turned out on the album. It's a lot different from the demo, but don't take my word for it - listen to it on our MySpace page!

The Nightfly: How would you feel about having ULY action figures sold in stores across the country?
Jim: Only if they have KISS face paint.
Nicole: I would only authorize that if mine came with multiple costumes and a fully functioning strap-on.